Friday, 19 December 2014

A Hero of Our Time

Grigory Alexandrovich Pechorin, the "hero" of the story, at the beginning makes me think of Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park. Charismatic, vain, selfish, idle, hedonistic, empty, heartless, amoral, he also likes to flirt, to toy with women's feelings, and does everything until he achieves his aim. Another similarity is that, even though they tend not to ponder over their actions and examine their wrongdoings to improve themselves and tend to be restless and easily get bored, they both are intelligent and knowledgeable. 
However, if Henry is kept in a distance and we see him through Fanny's eyes and the descriptions of the author, we see Pechorin 1st in the words of Maxim Maximych and the 1st narrator of A Hero of Our Time, a young Russian officer travelling through the Caucasus mountains, and later come close to Pechorin, reading his diary, entering his mind, following his thoughts. This is the fascinating part. Pechorin can be unprincipled, can be selfish to the point of cruelty, but he's not unobservant. He sees everything, sees through everyone. Pride, pretentiousness, hypocrisy, naivete under a mask of coolness, forced laughter, disguised fear...- nothing escapes his sharp eyes, because of this, he often achieves his purposes, but also because of this, all bores him and he cannot truly be friends with anyone, or truly love anyone, until Bela's last moments.
In the later part of the novel, Pechorin is depicted as something like a step to Bazarov. It's another side, not inconsistency. Like a nihilist, he has no system, attaches no importance to anything and has no fear, as though he has no conviction but that he, like everyone, shall die. He's also cold and rational and analytical, at least that's how he sees himself and how he wants to be perceived. As I've written before, in the posts about Fathers and Sons, Bazarov is not as cold and detached as he thinks he is. Pechorin is similar.
Take the scene of the duel, which, I think, is 1 of the best scenes in Russian literature. Pechorin not only ignores Werther's warning but even chooses a dangerous spot, his calmness is terrifying. His fearlessness is a mixture of pride and an indifference to all things, even his own death, and he doesn't care whether or not he dies because deep down inside he despises himself and does suffer, though he doesn't want to show it. He does have self-reflection, and acute self-awareness- what he lacks is a sense of purpose and the will to improve himself and live a better life. His life is a cycle of doing wrong things and despising himself and doing wrong things again and so on. In this scene, he, at 1st, only intends to ridicule and humiliate Grushnitsky, expose his pretentiousness and cowardliness and make Grushnitsky's scheme backfire. Killing Grushnitsky isn't in his mind, but neither does he think that that pale, trembling, weak-kneed guy wants to kill him, until Grushnitsky deliberately and determinedly shoots Pechorin in the leg where Pechorin almost topples and falls off the edge. 
"... To this day I have tried to explain to myself the emotion that then surged in my breast: it was the vexation of injured vanity, and contempt, and wrath born of the realisation that this man who was now eyeing me so coolly, with such calm insolence, 2 minutes before had sought to kill me like a dog without endangering himself in the slightest, for had I been wounded a little more severely in the leg I would certainly have toppled over the cliff. I looked him squarely in the face for a few minutes, trying to detect the slightest sign of repentance. Instead I thought I saw him suppressing a smile..." 
(trans. Martin Parker)
His action now is not one of cool heartlessness, but of injured vanity and anger. Saying "Finita la comedia!" is only a way of concealing from others how heated and unstable he is at the moment. 
"As I came down the path I saw Grushnitsky's blood-stained corpse between the clefts in the rocks. Involuntarily I closed my eyes. Untying my horse, I set out for home at a walking pace. My heart was heavy within me. The sun seemed to have lost its brilliance and its rays did not warm me. Before reaching the settlement I turned into a gorge on my right. I could not have endured to see anyone just then; I wanted to be alone..." 
This is similar to the scene after Bela's death, as told by Maxim Maximych at the beginning of the novel: 
"... I led Pechorin out of the room, and then we walked on the fort wall, pacing back and forth side by side for a long while without uttering a word, arms crossed behind our backs. It angered me to detect no sign of emotion on his face, for in his place I should have died of grief. Finally, he sat down on the ground in the shade and began to trace some design in the sand with a stick. I began to speak, wishing to console him, more for the sake of good form than anything else, you know, whereupon he looked up and laughed... That laughed sent cold shivers running up and down my spine." 
Pechorin's so used to hiding his emotions, feigning strength and indifference, and coolly analysing everything, including his despicable actions, that he's no longer able to articulate and express his emotions. They accumulate, and 1 day he explodes. 
(Now this sounds like Dolokhov in War and Peace). 


Another great book. Lermontov creates such as realistically complex and self-contradictory character, it's wonderful. None of the Russian writers I read this year disappoints. 

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